Painterly Perspective and Piety

Religious Uses of the Vanishing Point, from the 15th to the 18th Century


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About the Book

While the Renaissance is generally perceived to be a secular movement, the majority of large artworks executed in 15th century Italy were from ecclesiastical commissions. Because of the nature of primarily basilica-plan churches, a parishioner’s view was directed by the diminishing parallel lines formed by the walls of the structure. Appearing to converge upon a mutual point, this resulted in an artistic phenomenon known as the vanishing point. As applied to ecclesiastical artwork, the Catholic Vanishing Point (CVP) was deliberately situated upon or aligned with a given object—such as the Eucharist wafer or Host, the head of Christ or the womb of the Virgin Mary—possessing great symbolic significance in Roman liturgy. Masaccio’s fresco painting of the Trinity (circa 1427) in the Florentine church of Santa Maria Novella, analyzed in physical and symbolic detail, provides the first illustration of a consistently employed linear perspective within an ecclesiastical setting. Leonardo’s Last Supper, Venaziano’s St. Lucy Altarpiece, and Tome’s Transparente illustrate the continuation of this use of liturgical perspective.

About the Author(s)

The late John F. Moffitt authored, edited or translated numerous books about art history. He was an art history professor at New Mexico State University.

Bibliographic Details

John F. Moffitt
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 320
Bibliographic Info: 73 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2008
pISBN: 978-0-7864-3505-0
eISBN: 978-0-7864-5226-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1

Introduction: Picturing Perspective      7

1. The Historical Emergence of Linear Perspective      15

2. Instrumental Sources for Leon Battista Alberti’s Velo      33

3. Masaccio and the Functions of Religious Imagery in His Time      46

4. Recovering the Original Physical Situation of Masaccio’s Trinity Chapel      65

5. The Symbolic Unity of Masaccio’s Trinity      93

6. Toward a More Balanced Interpretation of Masaccio’s Trinity      107

7. Seeing the Host in Art and Architecture      124

8. Liturgical Perspective in the Context of Scenographic Architecture      150

9. The Case for Uterine Perspective      167

10. Host-Worship and the Spanish Custodias Procesionales      183

11. Sculpting Divine Vision in Narciso Tomé’s Transparente      211

12. Epilogue: The Demise of Pious Perspective      243

Chapter Notes      271

Bibliography      299

Index      309